Metallica - Ride the Lightning. 1984 USA

Metallica - Ride the Lightning. 1984 Music For Nations (UK)

To truly appreciate Metallica, I think it's important to understand the history. When Metallica debuted with "Kill 'Em All", they had rewritten the rules of metal as we knew it. There just simply wasn't any band playing that heavy, that fast, and that clear in those days. Sure it was a bit simple minded, and the lyrics were a little on the bonehead side, but still the album had most young males heart racing faster than Secretariat at the Derby. It was an exciting beginning, and Metallica could've stayed with this style and been heralded as a pioneer much in the same way we view Motorhead and Iron Maiden.

Then came "Ride the Lightning". Metallica still hadn't ironed out all of their contractual deals with Elektra, and I happened to be in England at the time of its initial release. Their UK deal was with the relatively minor underground label Music For Nations, and I just couldn't wait and bought the album at HMV. And dragged it with me for another 2 weeks. It's a decision I never regretted (and still have my well worn LP copy, that will stay with me until the end).

The album opens with "Fight Fire With Fire", and that track still gets my adrenaline up. James Hetfield's vocals, as Xavier Russell hilariously noted in Kerrangg at the time, was more like "Fight Vodka with Bourbon". It's been almost 25 years since "Ride the Lightning" came out, and tens of thousands of metal albums have copied every note of this album, with better production techniques and STILL I'm blown away by this cut. Consider that there was a time when I would hear this song almost every day! FFWF is followed by the title track, an awesomely mid paced super heavy song, that is as melodic as it is pulverizing. And so it goes through the remainder of the album. One big jaw dropping event. Especially for 1984. The band had improved exponentially on an already impressive debut. The song-writing has an almost progressive rock quality to it. And the band made a conscious decision to take an intellectual Iron Maiden approach to the lyrics. So instead of metal armies, banging that head that doesn't bang and other testosterone fueled brainlessness, Metallica opted to sing about the ethics of capital punishment, cryogenics, the anguish of contemplating suicide, the Egyptians perspective of Passover, and musical interpretations of Ernest Hemingway and H.P. Lovecraft. WHAT? How could any one band just rewrite the rules so fast?

In effect, "Ride the Lightning" was so far ahead of the curve it would take YEARS for anyone to catch up. Slayer had a parallel role in this, more underground sounding, but maintaining the amateurish lyric perspective. Even bands that featured former Metallica members like Exodus and Megadeth paled in comparison initially. It wouldn't be until 1987 and groups like Testament and Death Angel were starting to add to the original formula. By then Metallica was onto other ideas. One can argue that "Master of Puppets" is a stronger album, as it took the "Ride the Lightning" concept and improved on it. But it seemed a little more clinical and less of the moment. By "And Justice For All", Metallica were reaching for even more creative ideas. But it wasn't right. Their heart wasn't what would later be called a progressive metal group. It was a bit too wooden for their own good, though still a fine album. And their playing of 'One' at the Grammy's was a watershed moment for heavy metal overall. From here they lost their way to the hardcore original fans... and for many others they were just about to be introduced to a more radio friendly Metallica. But back to 1984 and "Ride the Lightning" has to be considered one of the most revolutionary albums ever made. And, yea, it still kicks ass too.

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